San Jose, CA – California had just a 50-mile trek down from Berkeley to San Jose for its NCAA Tournament opener.
And the Golden Bears took advantage of their golden opportunity.
Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe had 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Cal hung on for a 64-61 win over UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Justin Cobbs added 13 points and six helpers for the 12th-seeded Golden Bears (21-11), who escaped despite making just 4-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final minute.
"I don't buy the home-court theory because there are a lot of people there that didn't buy tickets to watch us. They bought tickets to watch basketball," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "But I will buy the theory that it was really great to be close to home because we had preparation time."
UNLV was held without a basket for more than 11 minutes during the second half and Cal turned a tie game into a nine-point advantage during that stretch. The Golden Bears outscored UNLV 34-18 in the paint and will face Syracuse in the third round on Saturday.
Anthony Bennett tallied 15 points and 11 boards to lead UNLV (25-10), which dropped its NCAA Tournament opener for the fourth straight year.
"I feel terrible," Bennett said. "I wanted to go far into this tournament. Things didn't work out for us."
Katin Reinhardt tied the contest at 37-37 with 16:32 left, but Cal countered with an 11-3 run to seize control of the contest. Cobbs, who had five points during the surge, capped it with a 3-pointer for a 48-40 advantage with 12:15 to go.
Later, Robert Thurman, who had 12 points, had eight straight Cal points and his dunk with 4:04 left gave the Bears a 56-48 lead, but back-to-back buckets by Mike Moser and Bennett trimmed the deficit to four.
A little over a minute later, Bryce Dejean-Jones stole the ball from Allen Crabbe and was fouled hard by Cobbs, who was called for a Flagrant 1 foul. But UNLV was unable to take advantage as Dejean-Jones split the pair from the line and Bennett missed a short fadeaway jumper in the paint. At the other end, Richard Solomon's dunk put Cal up 60-53 with 47 ticks to go.
A Moser layup and Bennett three-point play, sandwiched around two missed Tyrone Wallace free throws pulled UNLV within 60-58 with 14 seconds on the clock. Cobbs then split a pair of foul shots to keep it a one-possession game the head coach Mike Montgomery elected to foul the Rebels instead of playing out the possession. Anthony Marshall missed the first foul shot and made the second to make it a two-point game.
Cobbs then went 1-of-2 again and Marshall sunk a pair at the other end to make it 62-61 with six seconds left. Cal ran the next five ticks off the clock before Crabbe was fouled and he made two from the stripe. Dejean-Jones' out- of-bounds baseball pass was intercepted by Richard Solomon, who missed two free throws, but Bennett's heave at the horn was well off the mark.
Earlier, Cal netted the first seven points of the game before UNLV countered with a 12-2 swing to take a 12-9 edge. Neither team led by more than four the rest of the opening half as the game was knotted at 28-28 heading into the break.
UNLV was 1-of-9 from beyond the arc in the second half ... Cal was 7-of-16 from the foul line ... The Golden Bears became the second 12th seed from the Pac-12 to win on Thursday. Oregon beat Oklahoma State earlier during the day.